My first Spartan Race – and 3 things I would have done differently

Lion City Spartans

Lion City Spartans – It started with six weirdos.

As your typical ‘weekend warrior’, I’m the guy next to you – the average joe. While I may have done a half marathon and two Urbanathlons, I’m 37 years old and far from being an elite runner. Not able to run like a hare to win a race, but like a tortoise – I’m strong enough to carry my own weight, one step at a time towards the finish. Not last but more often, somewhere in the middle of the pack.

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A week ago, I did the most insane thing I have ever done just for a ‘run’ – I travelled from Singapore to Perth and participated in a Spartan Race Sprint. If you know anything about OCRs (Obstacle Course Races), you’d know just what it is. (But if you don’t – What is a Spartan Race?)

“You’ve got to be crazy” and “So hardcore man!” were just some of the comments I received when I mentioned to friends what I was about to do. How did I get this crazy idea? Well, it all started with ‘Shrek’ the Master Coach of Ritual Gym who started asking around if anyone would like to join him in some OCRs. I had already done an Urbanathlon, so the idea of an OCR with more challenging obstacles pique my interest (Urbanathlon has 8 over a course of 14km vs the Spartan Race Sprint of 20+ obstacles over 7-8km). I looked at the Spartan Race calendar, asked the wife if she wanted to head to Perth for a getaway, and that was it. Eventually, Shrek convinced 4 other like minded blokes. We formed our rag tag team of 6 and called ourselves the “Lion City Spartans”.

So began this journey to be Spartans. We trained together, exchanged what we learnt and completed the Sprint as a team. And if you’re wondering what to expect in a Spartan Race, well…in spite of all that training nothing can prepare you for the actual race itself, apart from actually running a Spartan Race. So having finished the Sprint last weekend, here are 3 things I’ve learnt and how I would have done them differently. Or more correctly, how I would do them differently for my next Spartan Race.

1. Wear more appropriate footwear

The ‘Toblerones’ (Photo by Aurora Images)

The ‘Toblerones’ (Photo by Aurora Images).

This is a Spartan Race – mud, water and sand WILL be a part of it. You’ll want shoes that give you some grip on the mud. You’ll be slipping and sliding down slopes especially through the ‘Toblerone’ where it’s mound after mound of mud slopes and chest deep water. Shoes with rubber teeth or spikes with good drainage (so your shoe doesn’t fill with water) will be your best choice. Something like Inov8’s Off Road series X-Talon (which are very popular with the Spartan Race Elite runners) or Reebok’s All Terrain Spartan Race shoes will get you to the top of those mud mounds, so that you can extend your arm and help your fellow Spartans up those mud slopes.

The Minimus 10v2 Trail shoes and Injinji socks that I wore

The Minimus 10v2 Trail shoes and Injinji socks that I wore. I love NB’s Minimus series, but they didn’t have enough grip on wet grass and the mud.

Besides shoes better suited for off road, I’ve learnt that socks that go pass the shins, closer to the knees would be better for my toes. I wore a pair of low cut Injinji Toe Socks which under normal circumstances are great, but right after a dip into one of the many water bodies along the course, sand started grinding my toes. Initially, I thought it was just mud and grit that slipped into my shoe’s toe box. I stopped a couple of times along the course to take my shoes off to shake it out. But after the race when I removed the socks, I realized that the low cut socks let in lots of sand that got right into each toe ‘pocket’. You may look silly, but tall socks, they’re probably going to spare you some discomfort.

2. Warm up/stretch before the start

A cold dip before getting back on trail (Photo by Aurora Images)

A cold dip before getting back on trail (Photo by Aurora Images)

Our wave timing was 0740hrs and we had arrived pretty early to the festival area. We’re Singaporeans and where we’re from, 12℃ mornings in the cold wind, is just not something we’re used to. We spent some time and effort trying to keep warm and just 15mins before the start time, my stomach decided it needed to take a massive dump. The rest of the participants had started to arrive and this meant the lines to the porta-loos were long. Waiting in line, I could hear the announcements for our wave to form up. I literally had just finished wiping my ass as they started counting down to flag off and dashed to the start line with moments to spare. Which meant I hadn’t warmed up or stretched.

As much as this may be another of my excuses, the killer or rather, one of the killers, are the icy cold water obstacles. Obstacles like the ‘Toblerones’ and various ponds which we had to swim across (so deep that my feet couldn’t touch the bottom) were so cold that literally, my balls shrank back into my groin. And because you’re jumping into these cold baths, your already warmed up bodies will cramp.

But what got me later was when I banged my knee against one of the obstacles and brought back an old injury. A patellar that bruises easily and tightens up quickly if I haven’t stretched or rolled it. Every running step that my right foot made, caused the knee to hurt. And this slowed me to a trot or rather, a waddle.

Warm up those limbs and stretch those muscles if you would like to finish in good shape.

3. Trained tougher (and smarter)

Say Hello to Bumblebee

Say hello to ‘Bumblebee’.

As first-timers, there were many unknowns to us and we did not know what to expect. We googled for articles, read blog posts and watched shaky GoPro footage for any inkling of what a typical Spartan Race might be like.

Shrek trained us for the worse and Hong Lim Park became our training arena. From afar, we looked like a bunch of weirdos running and jumping about in the park. But our motto soon became “It only looks like madness if just one guy is running around like a weirdo doing stupid shit. But it doesn’t if there is more than one weirdo doing it”.

60kg sandbag walks, prowlers (incidentally named Bumblebee because of it’s colour. which btw, I hated), smashing battle ropes, bear crawls, runs around the Marina Bay (peppered with climbing over random walls, box jumps on street benches and various callisthenics), squats, deadlifts, lunges, more dragging and pulling around fucking Bumblebee (did I already mention I hate prowlers?) and a lot of, I mean a lot of burpees (which is the forfeit of choice if you aren’t able to clear an obstacle in a Spartan Race. You already know 30 burpees suck. Right?).

The highlight of Perth’s Sprint was the hike up ‘Little Killington’ (nicknamed after the actual Vermont Killington slopes). I lost count at the number of times, but I cursed at each false summit that I thought would eventually crest over the hill. So loudly at one point, that a fellow Spartan cruised passed me and said “Don’t look up mate, just keep going”.

Running coach Fai training us on our running form

Running coach Fai training us on our running form.

Spartan Races also require you to haul some pretty heavy shit about. And for the Sprint in Perth some of the weighted obstacles included (weights were scaled for female warriors), pulling a 28kg kettlebell up a pulley, hauling a 40kg sandbag uphill and then back down again, farmers walk (or rather ‘hike’) uphill with a pair of 20kg kettlebells, tire flipping, tossing a 20kg dead-ball over a 2.5m high wall, and after all that hard work, carrying a 50kg dead-ball for about 50m, before dropping it for a dash across the finish line.

There came a point in our training where I thought, “How hard can it be? People from all walks of life have completed these races before”. Plus a few weeks before, I had just completed 14km in the Urbanathlon which meant that I had done lots of running over flat terrain. In hindsight, the Perth Sprint is about 7–8km over hilly terrain (races never have a ‘confirmed’ distance) and if you already average 5–8km runs, running will be the least of your worries. HIIT and MetCon are good options to build your core and cardio, but your training should include strength and endurance work, and also trail runs/hikes over hilly off road terrain.

The Spartan Race Sprint, while it is suitable for almost everyone with different fitness levels, it is a tough OCR. It’s no ‘fun run’ because the organisers really make you work for the finish. I never realised muscles groups at odd places over my limbs could ache like they did. So while a half marathon trains you to run for a distance, the challenge with the Spartan Race OCR is that you have to train several different skills – running, strength and endurance, but most of all mental resilience. While completing the race, the solitary conversations I had in my head composed of “Damn this is tough. Fuck! Ouch. Push! Lift! Don’t give on me now legs”.

Train smart and train tough.

The course is your enemy, not your fellow Spartan (Photo by Aurora Images)

The course is your enemy, not your fellow Spartan (Photo by Aurora Images).

This is not the end

Oh, one more thing…

Another lesson I learned during the Spartan Race was that it builds a sense of camaraderie. Every turn, fellow warriors were helping each other through obstacles and encouraging one another. I even had one elite finisher who had already completed the race, coach me from the sidelines at the last dead-ball carry obstacle, on how I should lift the weight for the finish. I listen to him, followed and fist bumped him with much gratitude, when the obstacle was completed, before crossing the finish line.

The Perth Sprint was such an amazing experience and I have no regrets at all, from taking time out of ‘life’ to train and then travelling for the race. Challenging, tough, accomplishment – are really just ‘words’ to describe the race. But until you’ve experienced it, you’ll never know for sure.

And as our rag-tag team gathered after the race for our obligatory humble brag group shot, I looked around me at all the other groups of warriors. All tired but gleaming as they donned their medals and finisher t-shirts. I was amongst a family. A community of fellow Spartans. 

AROO!

With Max Delacy (CEO) and Paul Harwood (Race Director) of Spartan Race Australia.

With Max Delacy (CEO) and Paul Harwood (Race Director) of Spartan Race Australia.

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